An overcast Monday morning seemed a fitting time to talk to Chad Brown about the training race at Saratoga Race Course.
No sun means no shadows.
The leader with seven wins after the first nine days of racing, the Mechanicville native has held his own the last couple years, for at least a while, with Todd Pletcher’s vast and talented stable.
Pletcher had five winners through Monday morning, but is capable of picking up the pace at any time. He ran off to 36 wins in 2010 to break his own record. Then he broke it again last year with 38.
Walking past Pletcher’s finely groomed quarters by the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course, Brown talked about training in the shadow of barn 62.
“Todd’s loaded with nice horses, and he’s a fantastic trainer,” Brown said. “There’s no doubt he’s going to be over in the Hall of Fame before too long. When you’ve got a guy with a lot of horses and tremendous talent, like him, he’s going to be there. He could have one week where he just goes off and wins 10 races. You know, it’s probably going to happen.”
Brown has been off to a great start to the meet at Saratoga, though, and has had a pretty good year, overall. At Saratoga, he had seven winners, six seconds and four thirds from 25 starts in the first nine days. That’s 28 percent in the winner’s circle and 68 percent in the money. Over this past weekend (Friday-Sunday), he was 3-2-3 from eight starts.
Entering Monday’s card, he had 70 winners, 50 seconds and 46 third-place finishers from 266 starts — a 26 percent win rate and 64 percent in the money. His earnings from those 266 starts clear
$4.8 million. That’s a career-high average of $14,343.84 per start.
It’s been no secret Brown is good at choosing his spots for his horses. The betting public knows it, too. In those first 25 starts at Saratoga, Brown’s horses have gone off as the favorite 11 times, and four of those have won. Pletcher, too, had 11 horses from his first 35 starters, two of which won.
Brown picked up the talent for picking his spots while working as an assistant trainer for the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.
“My mentor, he was a great handicapper,” Brown said. “He taught me a lot about placing horses, handicapping races, predicting what kind of move a horse is going to make — either forward or backward — and placing your horse based on what kind of move it’s going to make. Bobby was just a great teacher.”
He’ll keep that keen eye on his horses while keeping the other on Pletcher.
Even though Pletcher tends to have a great stock of juveniles each year that carry him a good distance toward the training title, Brown won’t concede the prize until he has to. He knows Pletcher will win more 2-year-old races than he will this year, but Brown has a handful of them that will run soon.
Brown’s 2-year-olds haven’t run yet because they are, for the most part, horses that were foaled later in the year.
His success in the last couple of years has grown his business, and he’s starting to get more horses and more horses of higher quality.
“I’ve been lucky to attract some business from some top owners. Not only some of the more successful owners in the game, but also some wonderful people to deal with,” he said. “It’s been very rewarding for me. Me and my staff, we put a lot of time in and to get business like that from top owners is rewarding.”
With more options for the middle of the meet this year, Brown is feeling good about his chances to at least make the training race interesting late.
“The last two years, I kind of ran out of ammunition in the middle of the meet,” Brown said. “This year, all my entry days won’t be strong, it’ll start to thin out a little bit for me, but I’m a little bit deeper than I have been in the last two years, roster-wise.
“It’s a long way to go. I’m just going to stick to what I’m doing, placing my horses where I think they belong, keep my head down, train and enter in the right spots. Then, hopefully, when I pick my head up toward the end of the meet, I’m still in the ballgame.”
THE LATER INNINGS
Late in that ballgame, Brown will turn loose his Triple Crown closer, Street Life, in the Grade I $1 million Travers on Aug. 25.
Street Life was fourth in the Belmont with a strong late kick and showed his closing ability again Friday in the Curlin, where Brown placed him as a prep for the Travers. He came out of the race in great shape, Brown said, though he hasn’t decided when to work him next.
Saturday’s Jim Dandy here and Sunday’s Haskell at Monmouth both turned out Travers hopefuls. Alpha wired the field in the Jim Dandy, and Paynter — second in the Belmont — was convincing in his win in New Jersey.
“I watched, but I didn’t form any opinions about the races. Both winners looked really good. They looked like formidable opponents in the Travers, for sure,” Brown said. “But I’m just going to stick to my plan, what I’m doing with my horse. I’m not going to worry about who’s running. If my horse is doing good, I’m going to lead him over there and hope he gets the right pace scenario and comes with his run, see if maybe he gets to the wire first. As usual, though, the Jim Dandy and the Haskell look like they’re going to produce some solid Travers candidates.”
Last year, French-bred Zagora won Brown his first Grade I race in the Diana. She is one of a growing number of horses in Brown’s barn that have their roots in Europe.
This year, Zagora ran third in the Diana, while Irish-bred Dream Peace finished second. Dream Peace came over to Brown’s barn after the race and he will train her to see where to place her next.
“I’m very lucky. She looks like another very talented filly,” he said. “I’m excited about training her. We’ll send her back to the track [today] and see how she’s training. We won’t make any immediate plans for her until I see her go, but we’re excited to have her.
“I watched her races [on video], saw her form. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far.”
Both horses emerged from the Diana in good order. He has no definite plans yet for Zagora, but he said the Grade II $250,000 Ballston Spa on Travers day is a possibility, depending on how she trains.
He will send out another European transfer Saturday in the De La Rose. Dealbata (4-1-0 from six career starts) scratched out of the $150,000 Matchmaker at Monmouth on Sunday to run at Saratoga in the one-mile turf race for fillies and mares 3 and older.
Awesome Feather worked a bullet four furlongs in 48-flat last Wednesday, fastest of 28, in training for her first start since a Jan. 28 win in the Florida Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park. When that next race will be is still up in the air, but Brown admitted she may soon begin working weekends to coincide with a future stakes start.
She has won all nine of her career starts, including two Grade I’s last year — the Gazelle and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.